My father grew up in a kosher household in Brooklyn. When he was 16, he went to a Yankees game during Passover. Without thinking about it, he got a hot dog. You know, like you do. Then, halfway through the wiener, he realized his error. A hot dog! On a bun! During Passover!
He stopped and considered. The sun was shining. The Yanks were winning. God hadn’t sent down a thunderbolt and incinerated him right there in his bleacher seat. So he said what the hell, finished the hot dog, and never kept kosher again.
In this, as in so many other things, I am my father’s daughter. Judaism, for me, is rather like the Pirates’ Code. I’ve never kept kosher in my life, and certainly never for Passover. So it’s no surprise that I only thought I was being clever when I came up with a recipe using a non-wheat flour for my family’s early seder this weekend. But, as it turns out, I used chickpeas. And chickpeas are not kosher for Passover, at least if you’re Ashkenazi. Whoops.
But I still served my dish, and it was delicious. So…there.
Okay, yes, I disappeared for another week. But I have an excuse. A really damn good excuse. An outrageously decadent, completely indulgent, fussy-fussy fancy-fancy excuse. An I-stayed-up-until-one-in-the-morning-on-a-Thursday-night-up-to-my-elbows-in-butter excuse.
I made you a tart. But I eated it.
Okay, let’s be honest. Valentine’s Day is a marketer’s dream. Red, pink, chocolate, hearts, Cupids with chubby dimpled buttocks–it’s all very sweet, and entirely manufactured. I’ve long been a cynic about Valentine’s Day, far more so than about any of the other Hallmark Holidays. For me, the real magic comes the day after, when chocolate goes on sale.
But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something inherently lovely in the day. Showing loved ones a little extra care and devotion is never a bad thing. And if there has to be a designated calendar day to remind us of that, then so be it. For me, Valentine’s Day is about genuine displays of warmth and affection, whether it be for romantic partners or friends, parents or siblings or children.
And when I want to lavish someone with love, I feed them. (This should come as no surprise to…well, anyone.) To me, it’s the ultimate homemade gift: a special meal of favorite ingredients, prepared by hand and served with care. As The Boyfriend said, “It’s like flowers, but I can eat it.”
I know I just wrote a lot of pretty words about cooking, and health, and fresh vegetables and herbs and spices. But my birthday was on Friday, so that’s all on hold. Today, I’m talking about cake.
First, let me make a confession. I am not a great baker. Only rarely can I summon up the patience to pull out the measuring cups. I’m a freewheeler in the kitchen, working in pinches and splashes; scooping, fluffing, leveling and dumping a cup and two-thirds of flour is not my idea of fun. But birthdays are different; I’ve had enough indifferent supermarket cakes in my life to overcome my disdain for precision in the kitchen. And when I can find an interesting recipe, it actually becomes…fun. There’s something satisfying about taking the traditional fluffy-buttercream layer cake and turning it on its head. For my birthday, I want a sophisticated and memorable dessert, something that makes you linger just a little longer over that last lick of your fork.
And let me tell you, this year’s cake delivered.